What is Flesh-Eating Disease?

Flesh-eating disease is a rare but deadly disease which can cause death within 12 to 24 hours from infection.

Also called necrotizing fasciitis (nek-roe-tie-zing fah-shee-eye-tis), the infection works its way rapidly through the tissue layers (the fascia) that surround muscles and destroys said tissue. The disease can be found in any part of the world and it is estimated that about 20 to 30 percent of infections are fatal.

What are the symptoms of the flesh-eating disease?
High fever and a red, severely painful swelling that feels hot and spreads rapidly are some of the symptoms of the flesh-eating disease. The skin may turn purplish and then die. There may be extensive tissue destruction. Sometimes the swelling starts at the site of a minor injury, such as a small cut or bruise, but in other cases there is no obvious source of infection.

What causes the flesh eating disease?

The disease can be caused by a number of different bacteria, such as group A streptococcus (GAS). GAS is actually a very common bacteria which a lot of us carry in our the throat and skin without getting sick. GAS is the same bacteria that causes strep throat, and can also cause impetigo, scarlet fever and rheumatic fever. In rare instances, GAS will cause serious illnesses, including pneumonia, meningitis, blood poisoning (bacteremia), streptococcal toxic-shock syndrome and flesh-eating disease.

How the disease is spread
Can you get infected through someone who is also infected with GAS? Yes you can although, it must be underscored that only a few people who come into contact with GAS will develop a serious disease. Flesh eating disease can be spread through close personal contact, such as kissing or sharing cutlery with someone who is infected. People who are ill, such as those with strep throat or skin infections, are most likely to spread the bacteria. On the other hand, those who carry the bacteria, but have no symptoms, are much less contagious.

Risk factors
Medical researchers still can not explain why GAS causes only minor infections for some people but is deadly to others. However, they have identified some risk factors such as:

  • A weakened immune system, which could be caused by such factors as disease (HIV infection, AIDS), cancer treatments (radiation and chemotherapy), or by taking anti-rejection drugs following an organ or bone-marrow transplant;
  • Chronic diseases, including heart, lung or liver disease;
  • Recent close contact with someone who has flesh-eating disease that was caused by GAS; and
  • Chickenpox- it should be noted, however, that while flesh-eating disease is a complication of chickenpox in children, very few children with chickenpox will develop flesh-eating disease.

How the flesh-eating fisease is treated

Treatment for the flesh-eating disease usually involves surgery to remove the infected tissue as well as antibiotics to fight the infection. At this time, there is no vaccine yet that could prevent a flesh-eating disease infection.

How to minimize your risk of infection

Prevention, as they say, is better than cure. Here are some steps that you should undertake to minimize your risk of infection:

  • Seek immediate medical attention if you have the symptoms of flesh-eating disease.
  • If you have been in close contact with someone who has flesh-eating disease caused by GAS, consult your doctor. It may be a good idea to take antibiotics as a precaution.
  • Take proper care of minor wounds and cuts. Wash the affected area in warm soapy water, and keep it clean and dry with a bandage.

Information Source: Health Canada